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« Swiss stay reasonable | Main | Is the Conservative party the party of freedom? »
Monday
Sep242012

The Conservatives and the f-word

Surprisingly enjoyable event in Windsor on Saturday (see previous post).

Some familiar faces: James Delingpole, Toby Young, Tim Montgomerie (ConservativeHome), Mark Wallace, Simon Richards (Freedom Association), Donna Edmunds (Freedom Matters), Matthews Elliot and Sinclair (TaxPayers Alliance) and many more – 140 in total.

I didn't hear Young or Delingpole speak because I was frantically revising my own ten-minute speech, but if the laughter I could hear was anything to go by then they were on good form. I understand that Delingpole even startled one or two delegates with the use of the f-word (and I don't mean 'freedom').

Ah, yes, freedom. This is such a huge subject that even 'Freedom and its limits', a marathon four-week series of debates organised by the Institute of Ideas several years ago, found it hard to reach a conclusion.

On Saturday three of us – Donna Edmunds, Simon Richards and me – were given one short session to answer the question 'Is the Conservative party still the party of freedom?'.

The problem is, freedom means very different things to different people. One of my favourite films is The Lives of Others which highlights the surveillance activities of the Stasi in East Germany in the 1980s. I have blogged about my week in Moscow in 1981 and this film conveys perfectly the claustrophobic, fearful yet curiously optimistic environment I encountered.

The point is, the war on tobacco can pale into insignificance compared to the loss of other freedoms. Indeed, a few weeks ago I addressed a small group of Russian journalists on the subject of smoking bans. One or two laughed when I described the misery the ban has inflicted on some people in the UK. Perhaps my message got lost in translation but I got the impression that in the context of even recent Russian history, the freedom to smoke in public places is considered a rather minor issue.

Anyway, I did my best on Saturday to explain the significance of the war on tobacco and why it matters. I argued, for example, that it's a microcosm of what's wrong with society (and the Conservative party) because it breeds intolerance and extremism. It encourages the abuse of science and statistics and much more. Ultimately, I said, the war on tobacco has resulted in a shocking abuse of power, often by unelected mandarins in Whitehall.

New Labour, I suggested, had abandoned economic socialism, which had failed, and replaced it with lifestyle socialism with very little opposition from a largely compliant Conservative party. I talked about the impact of the smoking ban (which the Conservative-led Coalition government had failed to review), explained how the Coalition had gone ahead with the display ban, and was now considering plain packaging. "Whatever happened to the party of business, de-regulation and personal responsibility?" I asked.

Encouraged by one or two nodding heads (although I think I may have alienated a few people too), I finished by saying, "The Conservatives may be the best we have got but, no, I don't think the Conservative party is the party of freedom".

After Donna and Simon had spoken there was no time for questions but later, in the bar, opinions on smoking seemed to be split because for every person who tapped me on the shoulder to say they agreed with me, someone else would tell me how much they hated the smell of tobacco smoke.

Ours was the last session of the day and after we finished we walked across the road to the Guildhall where there was a drinks reception. The Mayor was there to welcome us and we drank English sparkling wine in a beautiful, high-ceiled room featuring portraits of the Queen, Prince Philip, Charles I, Queen Anne and many more. (The Mayor told us that Elton John got 'married' here but Charles and Camilla chose the room next door so they couldn't be seen by photographers outside.)

My son and I enjoyed a long chat with Professor Roger Scruton who was later to give a charming, entertaining yet thoughtful after dinner speech. (How unlike most politicians!) I also met David Carpenter, a great fan of Chris Snowdon's work and an occasional reader of this blog. We spent most of the time talking about Cuba, which is where his wife comes from, and a country I hope to visit next year.

Over dinner in the hotel we shared a table with an equally entertaining group of people – a second year student from Durham University, a former member of the SAS now doing an MBA, an Oxford graduate now working in recruitment (later spied having a crafty cigarette outside) and several more.

A few weeks ago this event was described as a Rebel Tory party conference. In reality, although there was some private grumbling about Cameron and Osborne, this was no rebellion and I don't expect any serious challenge to current Government (or Conservative) policy this side of a general election.

In general, however, this was a useful, well-organised event that brought back memories of what Conservative conferences used to be like.

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Reader Comments (5)

Obviously, despite the scam of public health and smoking, it seems clear that most people still object to smoking because they are intolerant of a smell. I hate many smells, but unlike the selfish, I tolerate them because we all live in this world together and not everyone likes the same things.

It's nice to see there are some tolerant people in the Tory party but none of them would stand our corner, in my opinion, if it went against party policy and with plain packaging we can see exactly how party policy is going.

No, the Conservatives are not the party of freedom and if they don't start taking note of a significant minority in this country - who don't want much but a small space somewhere, to enjoy free association like everyone else, and for the denormalisation hate campaign to end - they will be voted out into the electoral wilderness for decades to come after 2015. And they say they're worried about UKIP? Obviously not if they can afford to throw away yet more of their traditional support while alienating new support that would have come their way if only they would take the jackboots off.

Finally, smoking may not be an important aspect of freedom to some who are not affected one bit by any smoking restriction, but for those of us who have smoked for a lifetime, been accepted as members of our communities all our lives, but are now judged negatively on who we are, branded as a certain type of undesirable person because of one thing we do, had our characters assassinated, face fines and penalties in so many aspects of our daily lives as smokers, banned from leaving our homes pretty much, with no say at all on how we manage our smoking lives with those of our children, and with all of this having a major impact on everything we do, then I have to say that dismissing the smoker's right to be left alone in peace without harassment is a huge freedom issue and anyone who thinks it isn't needs to look at it from the other side of the fence.

SmokERS cannot be easily defined into one group but for sure an awful lot of us are not just people who smoke.

There are ALWAYS two sides to any issue and on this one, the bullies and the bigots are the only ones being considered and no one wants a country ruled by them.

Monday, September 24, 2012 at 15:32 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

“….someone else would tell me how much they hated the smell of tobacco smoke”.

Simon, post-WWII, people didn’t go around claiming that they HATED the smell of tobacco smoke. It’s a recent phenomenon. Given three decades of propaganda convincing nonsmokers in particular that they are being “poisoned” by ambient tobacco smoke, what was once a background smell turns into a hated “stink”. It’s a perceptual shift manipulated by inflammatory propaganda which brings into play all sorts of mental dysfunction, e.g., anxiety reactions, hypochondria, somatization, histrionics. In the typical course of events the perceptual system will accommodate new smells/odours, sounds, etc within 4 minutes; they blend into the background. One factor that will inhibit this accommodation is strong fear associated with an externality. And for some nonsmokers, ambient tobacco smoke has become irrationally, highly fearful.

Notwithstanding the above, if they hated the smell of tobacco smoke, the appropriate question is – so what? You could ask them if all public places should only cater to people who “hate” the smell of smoke? Why can’t there be places for those that don’t hate the smell of smoke, into which he need never step? If 30 years ago people claimed that smoking should be banned in public places because they hated the smell of tobacco smoke, they would have been viewed as a wuss, a delicate whiner. That’s why it was imperative for the antismoking fanatics to [fraudulently] turn ambient tobacco smoke into a “health danger” where bans were then necessitated to remove the health hazard.

You could even ask these people if they have the same “hateful” reaction to cooking smoke, or BBQ smoke, or open indoor-fire smoke, or candle smoke.

Monday, September 24, 2012 at 16:59 | Unregistered CommenterWhat!!

Indeed What!! The response of "I hate tobacco smoke" is almost irrelevant in the context of smoking bans. If there were well-signposted "smoking pubs" or well-ventilated smoking rooms in pubs then their dislike of the smell is not a factor as they would still not smell anything. Indeed, by having such areas people would not gather by the entrances to buildings so they would smell it even less! AND 25% of the population could socialise in comfort and businesses could make money by catering to them and provide a decent customer service. When put this way (i.e it is not either/or - both can work) everyone I have ever spoken to on the issue is pro-smoking areas.

It is only to the likes of ASH and other proponents of the denormalisation campaign for whom this argument seems to make any sense.

Monday, September 24, 2012 at 20:26 | Unregistered CommenterMr A
Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 2:08 | Unregistered CommenterFrank Davis

For heaven's sake! What does it matter what the Conservative Party, as a group, believes? They do not actually govern this country - they pretend to. The real government lies with the unelected, unaccountable 'experts'.

Our political system stinks. It is the 'experts' that we should be electing, just as much as the MPs. We should be electing the Chief Medical Officer. And we should be electing MPs purely for them to keep an eye on the Chief Medical Officer, along with all the other Chiefs of this and that.
It really is very obvious. We should elect 'the chiefs' and elect the MPs whose responsibility should be to hold the chiefs to account. There should be no way that unelected new aristrocrats can take over - period. That is what has happened in the EU. The new aristocrats have taken over without a bleep of protest from our elected representatives.

That situation is a scandal of the first order.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 2:35 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

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